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On Orthorexia Nervosa: A Systematic Review of Reviews.

Psychopathology 2024 March 2
INTRODUCTION: Orthorexia nervosa (ON), characterized by a pathological preoccupation with "extreme dietary purity," is increasingly observed as a mental health condition among young adults and the general population. However, its diagnosis is not formally recognized and has remained contentious.

OBJECTIVE: In this systematic review, we attempt to overview previous reviews on ON, focusing on the methodological and conceptual issues with ON. This would serve both as a summary and a way to highlight gaps in earlier research.

METHODS: This systematic review took reference from the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) reporting guidelines, and using combinations of the search terms ("orthorexia" OR "orthorexia nervosa" OR "ON") AND ("review" OR "systematic review" OR "meta-analysis"), a literature search was performed on EMBASE, Medline and PsycINFO databases from inception up to October 31, 2023. Articles were included if (1) they were written or translated into English and (2) contained information pertaining to the diagnostic stability or validity of ON, or instruments used to measure ON symptoms and behaviors. Only review articles with a systematic literature search approach were included.

RESULTS: A total of 22 reviews were qualitatively reviewed. Several studies have reported variable prevalence of ON and highlighted the lack of thoroughly evaluated measures of ON with clear psychometric properties, with no reliable estimates. ORTO-15 and its variations such as ORTO-11, ORTO-12 are popularly used, although their use is discouraged. Existing instruments lack specificity for pathology and several disagreements on the conceptualization and hence diagnostic criteria of ON exist.

DISCUSSION: Previous reviews have consistently highlighted the highly variable (and contradictory) prevalence rates with different instruments to measure ON, lack of stable factor structure and psychometrics across ON measures, paucity of data on ON in clinical samples, and a need for a modern re-conceptualization of ON. The diagnosis of ON is challenging as it likely spans a spectrum from "normal" to "abnormal," and "functional" to "dysfunctional." "Non-pathological" orthorexia is not related to psychopathological constructs in the same way that ON is.

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